WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump in two years has distinguished himself as likely the most falsehood-prone president in American history. But that’s not stopping him and his lawyer from claiming that Michael Cohen, Trump’s previous lawyer, is too big a liar to be trusted.
“It’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” Rudy Giuliani said Friday about Cohen’s statements in court as well as in a new television interview. “He’s a dishonorable lawyer. ... Cohen double-crossed the president. Kind of like Judas.”
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison this week after pleading guilty to arranging payments to a porn actress and a Playboy model to buy their silence about affairs they said they had with Trump. The payments came in the days before Trump’s 2016 election, and both Cohen and the head of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer admitted that the timing was based on helping Trump win the presidency.
Cohen said in court, and elaborated in an ABC News interview Friday, that Trump personally directed the illegal campaign contributions.
“Nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my allocution, and I said as well in the plea ― he directed me to make the payments,” Cohen told the television network.
Giuliani, as he has for months, said Cohen is saying whatever prosecutors want him to say in return for leniency. He also bristled at the suggestion that Trump had no grounds for calling someone a liar because of his near-daily dishonesties.
“He is absolutely not a liar,” Giuliani said of Trump ― before adding that even if Trump were one, there is nothing illegal about paying off a mistress to keep her silent and not embarrass a wife and family. “Lying is not committing a crime.”
But in fact, Trump regularly writes and utters falsehoods. And in plenty of those cases, there is evidence Trump knew what he was saying wasn’t true.
The Washington Post found Trump’s falsehoods so prolific that it began a feature tracking them since the start of his presidency. It is up to 6,420 false and misleading statements as of Oct. 30. The Toronto Star started a similar tracker. It had logged a total of 3,924 “false claims” as of Dec. 5.
Trump’s dishonesties are not as big or as consequential as those of some previous presidents, including some falsehoods that have started wars, said Alexander Gourevitch, a presidential historian at Brown University. But Trump appears to have set a new standard in terms of sheer quantity, Gourevitch said.
“Constantly undermining your own credibility certainly makes it harder to paint other people as liars,” he said. “He lies about things he doesn’t even have to lie about. ... It’s a bit of a problem for Trump.”
Unfortunately for Giuliani, some of Trump’s proven “lies” have been statements he made about the payoffs he directed to Stormy Daniels and Kim McDougal.
On a flight aboard Air Force One on April 5, Trump was directly asked if he knew about the $130,000 payment to Daniels. Trump answered: “No.” He then told reporters to ask Cohen about it.
In fact, Trump later reimbursed Cohen for the payments through his family business, the Trump Organization, which Giuliani himself later disclosed on Fox News.
He lies about things he doesn’t even have to lie about. ... It’s a bit of a problem for Trump. Alexander Gourevitch, a presidential historian at Brown University
Trump’s own stories about the payments have changed dramatically over time, from not knowing about them at all, to not knowing about them until afterward, to admitting that he authorized Cohen to make them, to ― in the latest iteration ― admitting that he authorized Cohen to make them but not to break the law in the process.
That is the version he told Fox News on Thursday. “Let me tell you, I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own. He’s a lawyer,” Trump said. “A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That’s why you pay them a lot of money, et cetera, et cetera. He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong.”
Trump, though, did not address an August 2015 meeting between Cohen and David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer’s publisher, American Media Inc. The meeting was arranged to discuss a plan to make potential stories about Trump’s extramarital affairs disappear by buying them but never publishing them. Pecker has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation. And Trump, according to published reports, was also present at that meeting.
Giuliani said Friday that his search of relevant documents makes him doubt there even was a meeting. “Those records tell me there was no meeting,” he said, but then added, “I’m not worried about the meeting. If it happened, or didn’t happen.”
Giuliani also insisted that Trump’s payments to the women were not related to his campaign and therefore did not have to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. “It’s not a violation of the law to make that payment,” he said.
Some campaign finance experts agreed that the payments could be considered ordinary hush-money payments and not campaign-related. But they said Trump’s arguments would be bolstered if he could show he had made other payments to other women prior to the campaign-season ones to Daniels and McDougal.
“If there’s been a pattern of paying off women, that would tend to show this is business as usual,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine.
A problem for Trump, however, is that both Cohen and American Media have admitted to a court that the payment to McDougal was made “in concert with” the Trump campaign and that AMI’s “principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
And Giuliani refused to tell HuffPost on Friday if Trump had made any such previous payments to other women. “I should not answer that,” he said. “A lawyer should not answer that question.”
In addition to the investigation into hush-money payments, federal prosecutors in New York City are also examining how Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $100 million of donors’ money. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is separately investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian intelligence agencies in their work to support Trump’s election.
Ryan Reilly contributed to this report.